I heard two quick, loud pops. One, right after the other. “Pop, pop!”

My whole body froze as I took in the faces of those sitting next to me. Their eyes had widened with shock and fear.

But it only lasted for a split second. Then there was relief, followed by uncomfortable laughter.

We were at a local burger joint, many of our kids playing on the restaurant playscape. And the pops we heard were balloons from a birthday party taking place nearby.

As I scanned the scene in search of my six-year-old daughter, it was clear to me that the momentary panic I had experienced wasn’t just me.  We have been collectively conditioned to be prepared for the worst. Our subconscious postures are ones of expectation: Not “will there be a shooting?” but “when will there be a shooting?

Mass shooting after mass shooting, our lawmakers give us little hope to believe otherwise. In a country where it is typical for there to be more shootings on the calendar than days in the year, Uvalde has managed to leave us speechless.

At Robb Elementary, the nightmare of 20-plus families has been realized: 19 little children and two teachers are dead because of unnecessary gun violence made possible by incredibly lax gun laws.

Being three hours down the road from Uvalde, I am sick to my stomach with how close to home this hits. For many of us in Texas, we are in the final week of school. We should be overjoyed. Instead, we are outraged.

When we send our kids to school, we voice prayers under our breath because the possibility of the unthinkable becomes more realistic with each passing year. Instead of butterflies in our stomachs, we get rocks. We get sadness. A deep heavy-heartedness. Our fingers crossed.

It is all too much. And yet, I’m asked to offer some pastoral words as I often am in times of societal tragedy. But what words?

I have no words for this grief. I have no words for this fear and anger. I have no words when I imagine how our kids must feel about the world – about us – as we continue to send them to school daily without significantly changing their circumstances.

And the thing is, kids of all ages know what is going on. They talk to each other on the school bus, on the playground, in the cafeteria.

We want to protect them from the impacts of the news, but then we send them to school. We want to protect them from the realities of gun violence, but then we send them to school.

Our children are dying at school, and the ones who aren’t are watching and listening to our reactions. They are waiting for our collective response. It is this knowledge that jolted me out of my doom scrolling and the inertia that followed.

Indeed, our kids are taking their cues from us.

We may be speechless today, but will we remain so? Will we be so overcome that we do nothing? Will we drown in our own hopelessness? Will we cave to apathy?

Or will we make moves to create the futures our kids imagined up in their drawings and their songs and games, back when they were too young to know otherwise?

This is the future they deserve. And there is no one but us who can create it.

If you need a place to begin, consider a call to your representatives’ office. Consider the bipartisan Background Checks Act (H.R.8). Consider taking that social media post or that text voicing your concern to the doors of your elected officials instead.

Could the impact of our voices create lawmakers who are actually accountable to us? Could it rid us of the narratives perpetuated by partisan politics, that ask only for our blind loyalty and seek to win at any cost (even the cost of 19 children)?!

The families of Uvalde, of Buffalo and of Laguna Woods have entrusted us with their grief.

When they have no strength, we are to be strong for them. When they have no words, we are to use our own voices for them. We are to be their outrage. We are to be their courage.

May it be so. May we demand loudly, clearly and consistently the change we want to see. And may we use our own hands, feet and voices to create that change for the sake of our kids’ futures — and for the sake of those kids whose futures were so violently and unfairly taken from them.

May change fuel our thoughts, and may the work of it be our prayer. Amen.

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